“Remain in the world, act in the world, do whatsoever is needful, and yet remain transcendental, aloof, detached, a lotus flower in the pond.” ― Osho, The Secret of Secrets
“The root of all suffering is attachment.” – The Second Noble Truth of Buddhism.
To understand the real meaning behind this truth, try to recall a time in your life when you desperately wanted something or someone. Remember the passion behind this wanting that may have spurred you to take action. You may have felt anxious and emotionally hooked onto the situation. It may even have felt like your whole happiness depended on it.
As a go-getter, I admit that this has been common in my life. Maintaining a state of detachment and composure has been a challenge for me, and it’s something that I must continually work at. I’m well aware that an intellectual understanding of the perils of being overly attached does not necessarily make it easy to practice in real life.
For the longest time, I interpreted ‘detachment’ as releasing control over a situation. I believed that by not caring anymore, I’d be letting go of the reigns. The consequence, however, was that life would go astray, often in an unfavorable direction. Yet after some soul searching, I realized that my unwillingness to let go and surrender came from a fear of being vulnerable and a lack of faith.
When we’re subjected to our ego’s desire to control, we lose perspective on our personal situations, failing to see the bigger picture. When our thoughts are enmeshed with worry and doubt, we lose sight of the fact that there are larger Universal forces at work which are beyond our control and comprehension. The outcomes that we get are based on a co-creative partnership between us and these forces. It’s a dance in which we can all participate with grace.
Detachment becomes easier when we learn to trust this Higher Power and replace our fears with a deep, inner knowledge that whatever happens is for the highest good of all. When we live outside the limited paradigm of ‘me’ and acknowledge that we’re living in a web of collective consciousness, we can see that there’s so much more to life than just getting what we want.
One of my favorite movie scenes is from the film, Memoirs of a Geisha. The main character, Sayuri, stands at the edge of cliff and tosses out the handkerchief that was given to her by the Chairman, the man she had loved all her life. She did this after she was convinced that she had no chance of being with him. The sublime music combined with gorgeous scenery and a moving storyline gives audiences a poignant experience of what it means to surrender our dreams to unknown forces.
While letting go is an essential part of the manifestation process, it’s important to know that detachment isn’t about total withdrawal and passivity. It’s not about abdicating our responsibility in shaping our lives or allowing fate to run the whole show. Instead, detachment is a quality of being and relating to our desires on a personal level, moving beyond our neediness and expectations. As spiritual author, Ron W. Rathbun wrote, “true detachment isn’t a separation from life but the absolute freedom within your mind to explore living.”
While having a big picture perspective on our circumstances certainly does help, mastering the subtle art of detachment does require constant and consistent effort on our part. It’s easy to slip into the instinctive nature that tells us to cling on. We need to consciously enforce self-control and discipline to get back into balance.
Here are some ideas and tools that can help you in the process of healthy detachment:
1. Observe your thoughts around your attachments: Our attachments to situations and people are based on how we perceive them and the relationship that we have with them. When we’re overly attached we believe that our lives center on achieving a particular outcome. This inevitably leaves us feeling powerless in any given the situation. If you can relate to this, start making the shift by observing your thoughts from a neutral perspective and asking yourself these questions to figure out the root cause of your neediness: What are you afraid to lose? What is it about the situation or person that makes it hard for you to let go? Is it something within you? Does it give you a sense of identity? Understanding the reasons for your fear-based thoughts is the first step toward neutralizing your emotions and shifting towards healthier ways of relating to others.
2. Embrace the unknown and let go of expectations: Most of us have an instinctive dislike of the unknown. We’re uncomfortable with uncertain outcomes and not knowing what lies ahead of us. But trying to get insights and clarity about an unknown future is a recipe for mental anguish. As spiritual leader Deepak Chopra says, “those who seek security in the exterior world chase it for a lifetime. By letting go of your attachment to the illusion of security, which is really an attachment to the known, you step into the field of all possibilities. This is where you will find true happiness, abundance, and fulfillment.” When we let go and trust in what we cannot see, we open the doorway for abundance and attract the forces we need to evolve on our spiritual journey. Even though we may not get what we want, we’ll get what we need.
3. Practice mindfulness and shift your focus: Letting go of our attachment to our desires isn’t going to happen overnight. We need to continually monitor and manage it whenever we sense feelings of lack cropping up in our consciousness. There are many self-management techniques you can use to stay balanced such as mindfulness and meditation, mantras and affirmations, visualization, tapping techniques, etc. When you regularly engage in these practices, you’ll find it easier to view your situation with objectivity and discernment. You can step outside the drama and emotions, just as an actor steps out of her character, without losing sight of your end goal. You can quickly shift your focus towards other areas of your life that empower you such as a creative hobby and personal projects.
4. Know that you’re going to be okay no matter what: The best part about healthy detachment is the comfort that comes from knowing that you’re going to be fine regardless of what happens. Even if you don’t get what you hoped for, life will go on, and you will find other ways to experience happiness. Winston Churchill once said that “success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” The truth is that there are almost unlimited opportunities to experience love and joy in the world, and we don’t need to limit ourselves to that one thing or person based on what our ego is telling us. We can feel secure in the fact that the emotional experiences that we seek are accessible in a myriad of ways, as long as we’re open to seeing them.
I believe that we live in a conscious universe that operates through intelligent design, where everything happens with purpose and meaning. Looking at the cosmos from this perspective makes it easier to realize that there are no failures and mistakes in the natural order. Everything happens perfectly to ultimately raise our soul vibration.
All my best on your journey,
Question: Based on your experience, what do you think is the key to healthy detachment? What has helped you in the past?